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The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2017

It’s time to plan your holiday travel. That may mean cashing in the travel rewards you’ve accumulated on credit cards — or it may mean starting to use a travel rewards credit card. Chances are you spend money on some necessities, and when you do, tailoring the rewards you receive to your travel needs could end up financially benefiting you and your family even more than a cash back credit card might. Keep in mind, of course, that increasing your spending just to earn rewards doesn’t make sense, and it would be worse if you had to pay interest on your balances.

When you have controlled spending that you can afford, and you pay your credit card bill in full and on time every month, you can offset your costs of travel by earning rewards. Using the travel rewards credit card that best matches your travel needs for the spending you would be doing anyway could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. For example, some cards offer free flights and hotels while others can soften the blow of foreign transaction fees.

Listed below are the best travel rewards credit cards available today. If you’ve got a card you think deserves to be on this list, let us know and we’ll add it. These offers are subject to change so be sure to check the issuers application page and website for the most current information.

Editor’s Pick

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardThe Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the best travel rewards credit cards available today, as evidenced by the current offering:

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates

Plus, miles don’t expire and there’s no limit to how many you can earn. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card also has:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year; $59 after that

From our perspective, not being charged the typical 1% to 3% foreign transaction fee can be a great benefit all on its own if you spend money on purchases outside the U.S.

Learn how to apply here.


List of the Best Travel Reward Credit Card Offers

In addition to the Editor’s Pick, here are some additional top choices.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest American ExpressThe Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express continues to be one of the best travel reward credit cards you can find. You can earn 35,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months and an additional $2,000 in purchases during the first six months. That’s enough for a weekend getaway at a Category 4 Hotel like the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa or a six night stay at a Category 2 Hotel with plenty left over.

With this card you can earn up to 5 Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases charged directly at hotels and resorts participating in the Starwood Preferred Guest® program – that’s 2 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as a Card Member in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as an SPG member. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases. When redeeming your points, you can select from over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates. As a new perk, they have added free in-room, premium Internet access. Booking requirements apply and some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, $95 thereafter.

Learn how to apply here.


Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card

Discover it MilesThe Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card is a true 1.5% rewards card. In addition, Discover will match all of your rewards at the end of the first year, making it a 3% rewards card the first year. On top of that, there is no annual fee. Additional benefits include the following:

  • Get free access to your FICO score
  • Redeem your rewards in any amount for cash or a travel credit.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.

Learn how to apply here.


PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card.

The PenFed Travel Rewards American Express Card is like no other in terms of rewards.
Here are the issuer details:
• 0% APR promo balance transfer rate for 12 mos. After that, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 10.24% to 17.99%. APR will vary with the market based on prime rate. (Subject to credit approval.)
• Rate and offers are subject to change.
• Earn 5 points on airfare purchases.
• Earn 1 point on all other purchases.
• 20,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 within the first 3 months of opening the Card account.
• No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
• Rates as low as 10.24% APR.
• Federally insured by NCUA.

The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card. For this card, you must be a PenFed member to submit an application; but if you are not associated with the military, the American Red Cross, or any number of qualifying organizations, a one-time $15 or $20 membership donation to the Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association will do the trick. Keep in mind that membership to the credit union does not guarantee you will be approved for one of their credit cards.

Learn how to apply here.


More Options: You can see more travel rewards credit cards here.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Updated February 22, 2017 and originally published March 30, 2012.

About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of shizennougyou. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Not including the bonus miles, if you spend less than $30k per year the Starwood card is 1.25 points per dollar and is furthermore an American Express. Wouldn’t you be better off with a 1.5% cash back card?

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avatar 2 Anonymous

A 1.5% cash back Visa or Mastercard, I mean.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

You only get 1 point per dollar spent if you’re ignoring any bonuses. The 1.25 points/dollar only factors in when you transfer 20,000 points to an airline. As for whether or not a cash back card is better, depends on how you value a star point, doesn’t it?

I use my SPG AmEx like a religion, and I get some excellent values from it. My wife and I are staying at a beach property in Thailand that is going for $340/night during Xmas week. We’re paying 2800 points + $45 each night. Taking taxes into account (17% on the cash portion) we’re getting a value of over $0.10/point.

In fact, during this trip, we’re staying at several properties on C&P award rates. Our value/point ranges from a low of $0.039/point to the high that I mentioned above. Given that we’re staying at some of the nicest hotels and resorts in the cities we’ll be visiting, I’d much, much rather take the points.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I’ll just add to this as an Amex Cardholder for 20+ years. Their customer service is second to none, and Starwood’s is even better. You really see it whenever you have a question that’s a bit complex or slightly out of the ordinary – you can explain the problem once and they understand versus the sense I get talking with other company’s CS reps that you can tell are following a script and always need to ask a supervisor. Amex and Starwood really put the customer first.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

Flexo, I have the SPG AmEx card and became gold for my $30k in spend last year. I don’t earn points on normal purchases any faster — the only extra points you get are for purchases made at the hotel.

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avatar 6 Anonymous


One other thing… you should mention that the SPG program has a Cash & Points option available for redemption as well. Cat 1 C&P awards start at 1200 points + $25. These types of rewards generally give the most bang for the buck. One should note, however, that there are relatively few Cat 1&2 hotels in the USA. More common are the Cat 3&4 hotels, which are 2800pts/$45 and 4000pts/$60 respectively.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Excellent article. But, if you’re talking about The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards, why not consider the other common credit card issuers as Best Travel Rewards Credit cards. IMHO, they include: Citibank-AA Advantage credit cards gives 20,000-35,000miles for applying, but has a $750 spending requirement within 3months approval, and an annual fee of either $60-85. The Chase United Mileage Plus credit card and Chase Continental credit cards (both have $85 annual fees; 1st year waived) gives at least 20,000 miles to 30,000 mileage, depending on card (not including a rare incident in April 2010 when they offered 50,000 for MileagePlus customers). Either way, consumerisms must evaluate on their own what’s worth it to them. But, I’ve found most people do not believe in paying an annual fee for a credit card that does not give them cash back or benefits that are more than the annual fee + 1% cash/points back (which they can get with a no-fee card). YMMV.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

IMHO, sign-up bonuses aren’t enough to make a card “great”. I think the real intent of the article is to convey what cards are best for ongoing spending. WRT sign-up bonuses, these cards can be worth getting just for the bonus and dumping. It’s what I’m doing with the Chase United 50k bonus.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

We have the Starwood card and earned quite a few points but actually cashed them out for gift cards. I did want to use them for a trip but it’s not going to happen anytime soon so the gift cards are for us now. I’ll probably cancel it when the fee kicks in again this year.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Travel reward credit cards are really very helpful, specially once you are planning you vacations. The above mentioned list of credit cards along with a small description, gives a fair idea about these cards. One can choose the right one for him.

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avatar 11 shellye

Good article. I have a Visa World points card through B of A that I get 1 pt per dollar I spend regardless of what its on. I cash them out every Christmas for gift cards. I’m sick of B of A, though, so I’ll probably cancel the card at the end of this year.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I’ve heard that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card will be lowering the bonus to 40k by April 3rd. Have you heard the same thing? I just got mine in the mail 2 weeks ago and love it! Didn’t know the card was actually ‘metal’ and every time I use it people say something about it.. kinda funny. Anyways, if they are lowering the bonus I’m thinking of signing my wife up so we can both get the 50k bonus

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avatar 13 Anonymous

I use a cashback credit card that pays out every January so I’ve got a while to wait yet but It was nice to have £200 taken off my credit card bill last January. I would recommend these cards to anyone who has a good credit history and knows that they can pay off the bill at the end of each month in full. Thanks for a great analysis as ever, You are very good at reviewing the benefits

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avatar 14 Ceecee

Most of these cards have annual fees after the first year. Not crazy about that. I think I’d rather just have a generic rewards card where you can earn and use points for all purchases.

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avatar 15 Anonymous


You need to add “offers” to the title – “The Best Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers, April 2012”. The focus of the article is on signup bonuses and teaser earning rates. This is fine as bonuses are certainly a critical component of choosing a travel rewards card. But when I clicked on the title, I was expecting (and wanted) to see an evaluation of ongoing card performance.

It would be helpful to see basic earn rate (i.e., 1 pt/$), category earn rate (i.e., 2pts/$ for dining, travel), redemption value (i.e., $1/pt) and annual fee for each of these. I could use this to calculate my expected annual profit for the card and add it to any signup/teaser bonuses they offered for that first year.

Also, given your coverage of signup offers, I’m surprised you left out the Capital One Venture Card bonus of up to 100K points (or $1000) that Alec Baldwin has been touting ad nauseam in commercials. To me, the 100K bonus plus the $0.02/pt earn rate, plus earning miles on my flights as well, makes this hands-down the best travel card (for me). I see how others who travel a lot might choose the card from their airline or maybe the Citibank ThankYou Premier (I think this card is worth mentioning, particularly for frequent travelers). And I see Dan’s point – if you’re booking hotels, the SPG card offers outstanding value (not too bad for airlines either).

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avatar 16 Anonymous

Oh yea……I am a huge Chase fan. I have most of my accounts with them. I have been debating on if the annual fees are worth the rewards. I have never applied for a credit card that has fees. Thoughts?

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